Stories

A Chat: Australian Artist Ken Done

WADES Report chats to iconic Australian artist Ken Done about his inspiration and the new generation loving his work.

What is it about Australian beach and outdoor culture that inspired so much of your work?

I live beside the beach. My studio overlooks the beach. Like all Australians, I love going to the beach. So the pattern of people, the shapes of the waves and the birds, the rhythm of the sea against the rocks, all these things have been a constant inspiration.

How have you seen the aesthetic of the Australian lifestyle change over your career? How has this impacted your art?

In the past, I think Australia was represented by the hot, dry colours of the outback. But as most Australians cling to the edge of the continent, there’s been a change of image for Australia. It is brighter, stronger and more contemporary.

We’re seeing a resurgence of 1980s inspired design, have you experienced a rise in new audiences connecting with your original art and merchandise?

It is true that there has been an increased interest by a new generation in the works I did during the 80s. It can be put down to a number of things, but I hope that the most important thing is the quality of the work itself.

Along those lines, how does it feel to have a whole new generation appreciating and sharing your work?

I am flattered that a new generation responds so positively to my work, and again I hope it’s about the quality of the work itself. Over the last few years I’ve concentrated almost entirely on painting and it’s these works that seem to have had the strongest impact.

What impact do you feel your background in advertising and design made to the broad reach of your work?

My time in advertising taught me to understand something of the needs of a wider audience, so my work should be categorised into two areas. One, Design – whether it’s a scarf, a swimsuit or a tshirt, it should be as good as we can make it and its success can be judged by the marketplace reaction to it. The other part is painting, and at 79 I think I’m a better painter than I was, say at 39. It’s a journey of learning and understanding for both the artist and the audience.

How do your aspirations from when you first began painting compare with the career and impact your work has made to date, especially when you think of how your work defined a new aesthetic or visual language to present Australian culture to the world?

In the early 80s when people first saw my work, it was a very optimistic time for Australia and I tried to reflect that optimism and confidence in everything we did. I had travelled and worked in Japan, America and England, so I was aware of what was happening in other parts of the world and I wanted to show that we could be, in design terms, a very sophisticated environment.

What do you consider to be the standout highlight or highlights of your career to date?

A highlight at 79 would be that I’m still here and working as passionately as ever. With new publications about to be produced and a number of exhibitions including a touring exhibition to regional galleries, I’m enjoying the opportunity of reaching an even wider audience. It was a great highlight for us to work on the Olympic Games in the year 2000, and to be involved with UNICEF for over 30 years. I still have an insatiable desire to work, so I look forward, as ever, to the next paintings.